Preventive Repression: Two Types of Moral Hazard
by Tiberiu Dragu, New York University and Adam Przeworski, New York University
Authoritarian leaders maintain their grip on power primarily through preventive repression, routinely exercised by specialized security agencies with the aim of preventing any opponents from organizing and threatening their power. We develop a formal model to analyze the moral hazard problems inherent in the principal-agent relationship between rulers and their security agents in charge of preventive repression. The model distinguishes two types of moral hazard: “politics,” through which the security agents can exert political influence to increase their payoff by decreasing the ruler’s rents from power, and “corruption,” through which the agents can increase their payoff by engaging in rent-seeking activities that do not decrease the ruler’s rents from power. The surprising conclusion is that both the ruler and the security agent are better off when the only moral hazard problem available is politics rather than when the agent can choose between politics and corruption. We also show that the equilibrium probability of ruler’s survival in power is higher when politics is the only moral hazard available to the agent. These findings lead to our central conclusion that opportunities for corruption undermine authoritarian rule by distorting the incentives of the security agencies tasked with preventing potential threats.